(Address by Blade Nzimande to NEHAWU Congress, Pretoria
- 27 June 2004)
The SACP brings revolutionary greetings to this NEHAWU Congress, and
wishes to thank you most profoundly for extending an invitation for an
SACP delegation to participate in this important gathering. For the SACP
it is always a pleasure and our historic duty to be part of these workers'
parliaments. As Lenin said in 1900, the political future of the working
class and its victory can only be guaranteed if the labour and communist
movements unite. If they go different ways it is only to the detriment
of the struggle of the working class.
Your Congress takes place in the year in which we are celebrating 10
years of freedom. Therefore you should treat your Congress as part of
these celebrations. We also take this opportunity to congratulate the
role that NEHAWU and its members have played in building a new country
and a new democracy over the last ten years.
I have been asked to speak about the importance of building strong and
progressive public sector unions as a critical component of building
independent working class power. I have decided to structure my input
around 6 key propositions, within which I attempt to identify tasks for
NEHAWU and the working class as a whole. By propositions in this instance,
I mean a set of assumptions from which we must proceed if we are to build
a strong NEHAWU, a strong Alliance and deepen the NDR in favour of the
workers and the poor. These propositions are our point of departure and
the standpoint from which we must undertake the challenges before us.
They are part of our political and ideological framework.
Proposition 1: The ANC's electoral victory in the 2004 elections is
principally a class mandate from the workers and the poor
Let us first take this opportunity to congratulate NEHAWU and its members
and cadres for the role they played in the ANC's overwhelming victory
in the 2004 elections. NEHAWU has proven itself that is a solid ally
and a union conscious of its broader societal and political responsibilities.
At its last Central Committee the SACP undertook an extensive evaluation
of the elections, the election campaign and the meaning of the election
results. The key conclusion reached by the Central Committee was that
this victory is, at its core, a class mandate from the workers and the
poor to deepen transformation and address the twin challenges of creating
work and fighting poverty. The SACP Central Committee argued along these
lines for a number of reasons.
The 70% election majority of the ANC and the new gains in the provinces
of KZN and WC were, quite clearly, obtained through organic re-engagement
with the workers and the poor. The campaign was fought and won, over
many months, in government izimbizo, in activist door-to-door work, in
townships, informal settlements, and rural villages. It was fought and
won in the localities where working class power and hegemony is at its
most concentrated. The door-to-door campaign exposed all of our organisations
and our leading cadre to the moral hegemony of workers and the poor.
Contributing directly to the victory was a year and a quarter of greatly
improved alliance unity. The campaign was used by the ANC to rejuvenate
itself, and it was used by the popular masses of our country to engage
with national leadership, to impress upon this leadership an appreciation
of advances made, and a frustration at the persisting problems.
The campaign, the unity of the alliance, and the organic re-connection
with a mass base has also markedly impacted upon the policy priorities
and perspectives of the ANC-led government. The priority of work retention
and creation and of sustainable livelihoods has come much more prominently
to the fore. The imperative of a strong public and parastatal sector,
and the critique of the systemic weaknesses of the capitalist accumulation
path in South Africa are more emphasised.
There is no more central an issue to the working class than creating
work and poverty eradication. In the post election period we also take
heart at some of the political developments underlining many of the perspectives,
arguments and programmes of the working class over the last ten years.
This includes the President's state of the nation address that firmly
places government on a course to tackle the issue of jobs and poverty.
We also welcome the increased emphasis on the leading role of the state
in driving economic transformation and the strengthening of the public
sector, including parastatals, in line with calls by the working class
in recent years. We welcome government consideration of legislation to
curb casualisation of labour, the strengthening of the SETAs and firm
commitment to keep strategic parastatals in the hands of the state.
A key challenge for the ANC and its alliance is: How do we sustain,
post-elections, the organic connection with our mass base and the ideological
and strategic orientation that this has dynamised?
There are several key tasks:
- The working class must claim its victory. This it can do
by being in the forefront of the implementation of the ANC Manifesto
and all its
commitments. For a union like NEHAWU in particular, attention should
be paid to those areas in the Manifesto that relates to its sector,
and we hope this Congress will identify those, in order to ensure that
sector workers are in the forefront. This is important in order to
ensure that other class forces do not steal this victory for their
- We must sustain the mass character of the ANC at its grass-roots
levels, building on its mass-volunteer base. In particular, ANC structures
need to engage actively with local-level campaigns and particularly
with ensuring that IDPs are discussed and debated in communities, that
are held responsible and are in dynamic contact with communities. Cadres
of NEHAWU have a responsibility to ensure that in their own localities
this does indeed take place
- The Alliance must also be united and mobilised around these
tasks - but I shall return to this matter later.
- Task of NEHAWU and the working class as a whole is to subject
all public sector restructuring to a simple test - is it creating jobs
and eradicating poverty? If not, it is not in line with the ANC's election
manifesto and the government's programme!
Proposition 2: Government is the most important state apparatus, but
the state is broader than just government
It is important for public sector workers to understand this important
issue. Government is the most important pillar of the state, but it is
not the totality of the state. The state is also made up of other institutions
and apparatuses - the judiciary, parliament, state-owned enterprises,
and institutions supporting democracy, the Reserve Bank, etc. Most importantly
the state is not a static structural entity but it is a contested terrain.
Therefore at the same time it is a concentration of contested power and
struggles to shape its role and character. At the core of these struggles
and contestation is the class orientation of the state, and which class
forces is it serving?
The lesson out of this reality is that control of government is a necessary
but not sufficient condition to transform the state. It is possible that
progressive forces can control government, but reactionary and even counter-revolutionary
forces control and dominate other state apparatuses in a manner that
could undermine and even defeat government. In Chile in 1973 a socialist
government was overthrown largely because reactionary forces used other
apparatuses of the state to frustrate government programme, thus deliberately
instigating a coup.
In our own situation we have these realities. For example whilst our
constitution guarantees equality for all, sections of the judiciary still,
for instance, acquit some white farmers who continue to murder their
black workers, whilst handing down heavy sentences for crimes against
white farmers. This section of the state is in essence acting in a particular
class and racial way, thus undermining the gains that our struggle has
It therefore becomes important that we critically examine measures like
corporatisation and creation of institutions that are said to be independent.
Whilst it is important to have institutions that have to act impartially
to protect our democracy, but in a class society we must ask the question:
WHICH CLASS FORCES OR IDEOLOGY IS DOMINANT WITHIN THOSE INDEPENDENT STATE
Of course, in our situation, much as social class is the most fundamental
contradiction, the gender and national (racial) contradictions still
remains, respectively the most pervasive and dominant contradictions
in our society. Therefore transformation of the state means addressing
the class, national and gender contradictions in their interrelationship.
am raising this in order to highlight the point that the task of transforming
the apartheid state into a people's state is a task that
is far from over. A union located in government and other state structures
like NEHAWU has an important role in ensuring that state structures
are transformed to advance the interests of the overwhelming majority
of our people.
It is also within
this framework that we should carefully engage and challenge
the class content of what is sometimes defined as "core" and "non-core" functions.
This is because what is core to the working class is fundamentally different
from what is "core" to the bourgeoisie. For the working class
the "core" is public service to eradicate poverty, to the bourgeoisie
their "core" is profit maximisation for capitalists.
All the above therefore means that government alone cannot transform
the state. Mass mobilisation, and in particular organised worker and
working class power, is essential in the overall process of transforming
both governmental institutions and the state. It is also in relation
to this task that independent working class power becomes absolutely
However a critical challenge I wish to pose in this context, is to what
extent do COSATU affiliates continue to drive and lead COSATU campaigns
(eg jobs and building a strong public sector, as opposed to privatisation)
in their spheres of organising. For instance to what extent is NEHAWU
having a programme of action on domination of private health in our health
institutions, profit-seeking and greediness of medical aid schemes, free
and compulsory education? Failure to do this tends to isolate the federation
as if it is the only body pursuing broader socio-economic campaigns -
otherwise the affiliates are okay. This tends to strengthen the federation's
Proposition 3: NEHAWU is simultaneously part of the
Alliance and an indispensable part of building independent working
class power in all
spheres of power and society, and the two are not in contradiction
Whilst the organised working class does not constitute the entirety
of the working class, it is nevertheless the most critical layer of the
working class. It is that layer of the working class that has the economic
and organisational muscle and revolutionary traditions to play an important
role in the overall struggles of the working class.
However the organised component of the working class in itself cannot
be able to act as the most critical layer if it is not educated and steeped
in the ideology of the working class - Marxism-Leninism. That is why
one of the tasks of any trade union, acting together with the communist
party, is to ensure the political education of workers in the only ideology
of the working class.
The starting point and the aim of this education (coupled together with
concrete struggles) is for workers to develop a deeper understanding
that being part of an alliance with other class forces (as reflected
in the nature of the ANC) does not mean the surrender of the interests
of the working class. And to have an independent character does not preclude
the working class from entering into alliances with, and leading, other
class forces. In fact, in concrete conditions of struggle the working
class alone, without harnessing other class forces marginalized by the
capitalist or oppressive systems, cannot be able to win its struggle
in the end. This includes harnessing revolutionary intellectuals committed
to advancing the interests and the struggle of the working class.
The twin problems that we normally encounter in our organisations today
is to think that by asserting the independence of the working class we
are therefore opposed to and against the ANC as a broad based movement,
as well as from the democratic government. This is a right wing position
that threatens to submerge the interests of the working class to that
of other class forces. In concrete terms it asks of NEHAWU to become
a sweetheart union, just because we have a democratic government. Sections
of this tendency seeks to project itself as more ANC than NEHAWU itself,
and seek to project working class independence as meaning being anti-ANC,
thus weakening NEHAWU in the name of the ANC. This is in fact an anti-ANC
position, as the ANC is an organisation with a working class bias. This
would not only weaken NEHAWU, if it stops independently taking up genuine
worker interests and issues, but would also weaken the impact of NEHAWU
in the struggle to transform the state in favour of the workers and the
The flip side of this argument is that of advancing the idea that in
order to secure the independence of the working class and its programmes
we need to distance ourselves from broad based mass and liberation movements.
In the process workers distance themselves from playing a critical role
in the transformation process. This is an extreme leftist position that
can isolate the working class from the rest of society. The task therefore
is that of becoming both part of the Alliance, without sacrificing the
independence of the trade union movement.
The concrete reality that we are in today, in the context of our Tripartite
Alliance, is that only, and only workers, belong to the three organisations
in our alliance. The bourgeoisie and the middle classes that are part
of the liberation movement can only belong to the ANC, and rightly so,
as they cannot belong to the SACP, as they are not socialists, nor to
COSATU, as they are not workers. The revolutionary petty bourgeoisie
and intellectuals, who have committed class suicide, can only belong
to both the ANC and the SACP, but not to COSATU, as they are not workers.
It is only workers who belong to the three organisations, and it is for
this reason that the working class should be the main motive force of
the revolution and the glue that should bind the Alliance together.
Of course the task that arises out of this is that workers must belong
and build all these three organisations. If workers do not do this, the
revolution is in danger. But it is also politically conscious Marxist-Leninist
workers who can lead this struggle. Some workers complain that they have
to belong to three organisations and this is too much. Yes, they must
belong and build the three organisations, because the working class struggle
is three times more difficult, and the victory of the working class in
this struggle improves the conditions of the workers and the poor three
The concrete tasks that arise out of this for NEHAWU is that its members
and leading cadres must play an important role in building all the three
organisations of the Alliance and ensure the unity of this Alliance.
None of these terrains of organisation, the ANC, the SACP and COSATU
can be without workers' presence. Other class forces will occupy the
space abandoned by the working class. Because of the strategic location
of the working class in this alliance, the unity of the alliance can
only happen if key components of the working class, like NEHAWU, are
themselves united. Unity of the Alliance, and the foundation for that
is the unity within each of the components of the Alliance. So in this
case unity of the Alliance starts with the unity of NEHAWU.
Let us raise some issues on the question of the need for unity in NEHAWU.
We are aware that you have come out of a very difficult period, characterised
by tensions and internal conflict. This Congress must therefore be used
to cement NEHAWU unity. You cannot contribute to unity in the alliance
if you yourselves are not united. It is for this reason that those faceless
characters circulating derogatory pamphlets within the union, on the
eve of congress, cannot be regarded as builders of unity. They are the
dividers of the union. They are counter-revolutionaries. IMIDLWEMBE!
They are also cowards because they fear raising their concerns in open
and democratic processes of the union.
These faceless pamphlets also emerged in the run up to the SADTU Congress
two years ago, attacking some of the leaders of that union, including
collusion with bourgeois media. This makes us to ask uncomfortable, but
absolutely necessary questions. Is this not a concerted counter-revolutionary
attack on public sector unions? Is this attack on progressive public
sector unions not informed by the fact that they form a critical component
of COSATU and have grown significantly over the last ten years? Let us
defend our unions against these counter-revolutionaries, for the sake
of the NDR and the struggle for socialism.
But this also necessitates that we ask the question of what do we mean
by unity? Unity can only be based on collectively advancing the programme
of the workers and members of NEHAWU. There can be no unity between those
loyally committed to advancing such a programme nd those who are half-hearted
or opportunistic about implementing this programme of NEHAWU. There can
be no unity between loyal NEHAWU cadres and those who only see NEHAWU
as an opportunity to serve their careerist interests. Otherwise we build
permanent instability within the union.
Your tasks therefore, beginning with this Congress, is to defeat all
forms of opportunism and careerism within the union.
Proposition 4: Significant progress in addressing the needs of the workers
and poor during the first ten years of our democracy has happened where
the state has played a leading role
This is more of a factual reality than a proposition. At its 2000 Strategy
Conference, the SACP made this observation and has been underlined in
the government's Ten Year Review. We have made progress in providing
water, electricity, housing and telephony only through the parastatals
and government programmes. Where we have left these with the private
sector, there has been no progress, no investment in low cost housing
or micro and small enterprises.
What this means is that only the public sector is best capable of meeting
the needs of the overwhelming majority of our people. The key tasks therefore
for NEHAWU is to build a strong, accountable and democratic public sector,
as the only principal vehicle to meet the needs of our people.
Proposition 5: Building independent working class power in all centres
of power and spheres of influence is a fundamental condition for consolidating
the NDR in favour of the workers and the poor, and laying the basis for
Let us start by asking the question of what do we mean by independence
of the working class. This does not mean isolation or disconnection from
the rest of society, but it means what the working class does is based
on the mandate of the working class, to serve and advance the interests
of the working class. It also means building capacity of the working
class to make its impact felt on society based on this mandate. In order
to lead society the working class must have its own independent working
class organisations, principally the trade unions, the communist party,
presence and influence in mass organisations, including building an independent
working-class led civic movement to defend the community and residential
interests of the working class. Without this independence the working
class tails behind other classes and lose sight of its own interests.
The working class interests objectively coincide with the interests of
the overwhelming majority of our people.
The SACP has adopted a medium term vision (MTV). This medium term vision
calls for the building of working class power such that it is able to
impact on all the centers of power within the next ten years. It must
be such that by the end of the second decade of our freedom, there must
be no decision taken by any centre power - public, private and mass -
which is not informed by the interests of the workers and the poor.
The key task of NEHAWU in this regard is to ensure that it embraces
this MTV as part of its overall programme. Within this context we need
to work together to ensure that COSATU's 2015 vision is harmonised with
the MTV as the overall vision of the working class.
It is the MTV, with 2015 located within this, that will ensure the building
of the hegemony of the working class in the national democratic revolution
and laying the basis for building elements of, capacity for, and a momentum
towards socialism in our country. It is our belief that none of the problems
facing South Africa will be resolved unless there is a transition to
socialism in our country. Capitalism is no solution to the problems facing
our society. It is therefore important for NEHAWU to play its role by
working together with the SACP to educate and build capacity of its members
to struggle for socialism.
Proposition 6: The precondition for deepening and consolidating our
democratic gains is to build a strong ANC and Alliance, but the fundamental
precondition for breaking with the current (capitalist) accumulation
regime is to build a strong and hegemonic SACP
We need to make it absolutely clear that one of the most important tasks
of NEHAWU is that of building a strong South African Communist Party,
as the vanguard of the working class, and as the vehicle to take us to
Since your last Congress, the SACP has made important advances. In 2001
we launched the financial sector campaign to ensure that resources in
the financial sector of our country are used to invest in such a manner
that the interests of the working class and its communities are addressed.
It is directly as a result of this campaign that today we have a Financial
Sector Charter. Through, amongst others, this campaign we have grown
the membership of our Party from about 18000 in 2001 to just under 30
000 today. We must also take this opportunity to thank those NEHAWU members
who have participated in this campaign.
As a critical component of this campaign we have also taken the struggle
forward for the building of a co-operative movement serving the interests
of the workers and the poor. Today government is about to table new legislation
on co-operatives, particularly co-operative banks, thanks to the SACP
led campaign! This campaign has brought together more than fifty organisations
to form the Financial Sector Campaign Coalition - the Alliance, co-ops,
burial societies, stokvels, women and youth savings organisations - to
drive the transformation of this sector.
Some of the other successes of this campaign has been the commitment
by government to pass new consumer credit legislation to ensure that
we regulate the credit bureaux and ensure that there is an end to discriminatory
practices against black consumers in particular. There is a also a commitment
by the financial sector to invest about R75bn rands in infrastructure
in poor areas. There is also commitment to ensure that the overwhelming
majority of the more than 15 million South Africans, who do not have
bank accounts, are able to have a bank account. We shall not rest until
all these are achieved. We call upon NEHAWU and its members to continue
being part of this campaign, as part of the overall struggle to create
work and fight poverty.
The key task in this regard by the progressive trade union movement
in general, and NEHAWU in particular, is to struggle for workers' pension
and provident funds to be controlled by workers such that their investment
is used to support job creation and poverty eradication.
It is for this reason that as the SACP we are concerned that much as
there is talk about restructuring the Public Investment Company - PIC
- which manages your pension and provident funds, the voice of public
sector workers is not being adequately felt. We cannot allow the PIC
to be just corporatised only to support the creation of a new black elite,
and continued accumulation by white finance capital, without benefit
to the workers and their communities. I would plead that a special resolution
be adopted at this Congress to ensure that NEHAWU, together with other
progressive public sector workers, seriously engage with the PIC to ensure
that the interests of the workers and the poor are prioritised. You can,
and you must do it.
All these are part of struggles to lay a foundation towards building
socialism in our country. However, it is important to ensure that in
order to move towards this goal, workers deepen their international work
through worker solidarity. For instance it is important for NEHAWU to
deepen its relations with Swaziland public sector workers in their struggle
to create a democratic Swaziland; to build stronger links with Western
Sahara public sector workers towards the independence and liberation
of that country. It is also crucial to work with Palestinian public sector
workers who are daily being butchered by the Sharon terrorist regime,
and deepen solidarity with public sector workers in Cuba (almost all
workers in socialist Cuba are in the public sector!) in their struggle
against the criminal and unjust US blockade!
However a key priority is that of forging closer links with public sector
workers in our continent. South Africa cannot be an island of strong
and progressive working class formations without seeking to assist in
building these and a strong working class consciousness in our continent.
For instance, the SACP is more than willing to work with NEHAWU - and
we have some concrete suggestions and ideas in this regard - to undertake
joint Southern African worker political education initiatives. We would
like to engage the incoming NEHAWU leadership in this regard.
Let us support these broader working class campaigns and ensure an even
stronger SACP. Let this Congress be a Unity Congress! Let us do all these
things, with and for the sake of the NEHAWU members, with and for a working-class
led NDR, with and for Socialism…. With and For Workers and the Poor!
With these words we wish you a successful Congress!